Goaltenders: Between a rock and a hard place
I’ll get to some tips in a bit, but first we must enter what reality TV calls the “confessional” — where a show’s participant talks directly to the camera about his feelings and his reflections about what just happened. It’s a moment of retrospect, where the celeb tries to rationalize his actions.
That’s just what I need to do about being a goalkeeper, so here goes:
As I’ve mentioned before, I am far from a great hurling player. I love the sport, but I just don’t have the exact combination of skills to really excel at the game.
That basic fact hasn’t deterred me from continuing to play. Still I have wondered “What should my role be on a hurling team?”
This year I began to explore something I tried briefly in the previous season: Goaltending.
There are a few reasons why I wanted to look into this position. First, I don’t have any problem with shouldering the blame for my failures. One of the primary reasons people don’t like to play goaltender in any sport is because it’s incredibly easy to be awful in the position. If you let a ball or a puck pass you, everyone knows it. There’s no middle ground. You either win or you lose.
It’s a pressure position, and I tend to work well under pressure. So I was good with that.
The second reason I was willing to take on the position is because, well, I’m “the fat kid.”
Through most of my life that’s who I’ve been when I’m on a sports team. In most instances, that means I’m on defenseman. That’s what I played in my brief stints in soccer and roller hockey. In baseball, I was a right fielder — tucked away where I could do the least amount of damage to the team. That’s exactly where you put the fat kid, someplace where he can’t mess up for being too slow or too uncoordinated.
But when there’s a surplus of players, the fat kid gets shifted even farther away from the action. He becomes a “sub.” He waits on the sidelines for someone to get hurt or to perform terribly or to become too tired. When they come out, the sub goes in. And if the coach has his way, the sub stays on the field for as short of a time as possible.
I don’t blame the coach for making that choice. He’s trying to win. He knows that the fat kid has only so much fuel in his tank. He knows that “the sub” has only so much drive and skill.
Thirdly, I know I’m not the fastest guy on the field. Heck, I’m not even the fastest guy among the subs. In fact, I know I’m not. In goal, I figured, running speed isn’t as important as reaction speed.
And so, early this year, I decided to make a concerted effort to get myself in goal.
The results weren’t great, but I learned a lot about the position. I doubt it will happen but I’d like to try it again, especially if they let me practice at the position more thoroughly. And really, who wouldn’t want to shoot things at me?
So while I’m not a great goal-tender, I managed to get some good pointers on playing the position. Here goes:
- STAY IN FRONT OF THE BALL: Yes, that makes sense. To keep the ball out of the net, you want to stay in front of the ball. But the more important point of this tip is that you want to block the ball with your entire body. Don’t reach for it. Move to it. If you reach for the ball, you must catch it. If you move your body to the ball, it can block the ball if you fail to catch it. Essentially, you want your body to be your backup for a bad catch.
- BIG GOAL: Remember, the goal in hurling is positively massive compared to the size of the sliotar. It’s like hitting a baseball into a soccer goal. The best way to protect the goal is to have a strong defensive line that doesn’t let the ball come near you. After that, it’s just you protecting that big space. What’s you’re role in that? Well, see the next tip:
- BE A TALKER: On the field, you have the best view of all the action. Talk actively to your team. Tell them who’s open. Tell them who needs to be covered and what gaps need to be filled. Point out weaknesses in the team. Be vocal about any observation you have. The more you talk to your team, the more they will support you.
- DON’T TURN, MOVE LATERALLY: Never turn toward the ball as it comes in. This gives you less “stopping area” to halt the sliotar’s forward progress. Instead, move side-to-side across the goal area.
- YOUR FEET: It might seem counter-intuitive, but don’t stand with your legs spread apart, a position that expands your stopping area. While it does do that, it also makes it more difficult for you to move quickly side to side. Instead, stand at the ready with your feet directly under your shoulders. This lets you shift from side-to-side at a moments notice. A wider stance will force you into taking an extra step — the movement that brings your foot underneath your shoulder before your can move farther to the side.
- THE GOALTENDER’S HURLEY: The hurley used by goaltenders has a wider wedge at the end of it. This is about the only advantage offered to goaltenders. Typically, this upgraded stick is used to block shots and to pass the ball out to your teammates. The problem is that since it’s bigger, it’s also slower to swing. When you get a puck out, switch to a regular playing stick for a better hit. When you’re waiting for shots on goal, use the goaltender stick.
- USING YOUR HURLEY: As you try to block shots with your hurley, the preferred hold is slightly different than a normal player’s. You want one hand on the grip, and the other way up toward the top of the business end. You should use your dominant hand on the business end and adjust the angle of the hurley on the fly to deflect the ball to your teammates. Alternatively, angle the stick to create a nice bounce that you can catch. Most importantly, hold the stick vertically in front of the core of your body. This forces you to move yourself between the ball and the goal, rather than your stick. When you’re stopping shots, don’t reach into a wide open space with your hurley unless you’re absolutely sure you can’t get there in time.
- STOPPING POINTS: The only time you should reach with your hurley is if you think you can stop a point from being scored. However, only do that when there aren’t any opposing players in your zone. There’s nothing worse than stopping a point, only to have it converted into a goal by a quick-thinking full forward.
- HOLD THE BALL: Some people might consider this bad advice, but if you’re in the heat of the moment and desperate, simply hold on to the ball, wait for the whistle to blow and let the referee sort things out. Technically, if you have possession of the ball you’ve got a few seconds to figure out what to do with it, after that you’ve committed a foul. A foul by the goaltender will result in a free from the 20 meter line. But here’s the rub: Getting a foul is better than giving up the ball right on the goal line. If the ref calls a foul, you’ll have your teammates to help you defend the goal, where you might not have earlier. Even better, your delay might cause another player to foul you, in which case you’ll get just what you wanted: a puck out. Honestly, it’s a risk worth taking.
- CREATE TIME: The game of hurling is very fast paced and extremely exhausting. Whenever you have the ball and aren’t being threatened by an opposing player (like when you get to puck out), take your time and stretch out the play. Give your players a chance to get open. Give them a chance to rest. The best way to create time is to take a moment to trade your hurley for another one or simply pace the sideline. Don’t do this for long, but a 10 or 15 second delay can be just what your team needs.
- GET PHYSICAL:
Don’t be afraid to apply a check to an opposing player coming in on you. As long as you have the ball, you’re allowed to give a shoulder check.A person more familiar with the rules than I says the striked-out portion of this tip actually a foul. Sorry about that. However, you certainly can throw a shoulder check while they have the ball or if you are both struggling to get control of the sliotar. Doing this will give you time and space to make your next move. It will also give your teammates time to get in and help you.
- SCRAMBLE: Don’t be afraid to leave the goaltender’s parallelogram in your effort to keep the game under your control. You should be willing to scramble, run and aggressively go after the sliotar, and those actions can lead you far away from your safe area. In those times, expect to be bashed and whacked, but you can get some great results. While you’re out there, at least one of your defensive backs should be covering the goal for you. But what’s the benefit of leaving the goal zone? Two things: 1 — You might have a little more energy than your players, so you can briefly help them rest and reorganize. 2 — You should leave your zone if you think you can get to the ball first, send it away and keep the game under your control.
Have you got any goaltending tips? Are some of these crazy? Speak up in the comments!